Monday, January 30, 2006

Drakensberg, South Africa . . . No greetings here. You see more baboons than people

Drakensberg National Park is described as “South Africa’s premier mountain wilderness”. The plan was to spend a few days there hiking and camping. There were some tense moments during packing. Phil became particularly distressed when forced to purchase cask wine due to weight considerations. Oh the horror . . . the horror. He regained composure by repeating the mantra: “Cask wine is better than no wine. Cask wine is better than no wine”.

As a group (Phillippa, Francois, Felix and two of their friends, Bridget and Dave) we were probably carrying the combined weight of a couple of sumo wrestlers. At least that is my excuse for the fact that it took us a day to complete a hike that, according to the guide book, could be completed in half a day.

Despite the weighty packs hiking and camping around Cathedral Peak was definitely enjoyable. We managed to cover the full range of hiking experiences in a few days: we crossed rapidly flowing rivers, showered in waterfalls, fell into a river at night losing shoes and some clothes (Francois), saw a snake (Felix and me), spilt some blood falling on to a rock (Phillippa), hiked in the sun and the rain (it is wet season), experienced vertigo and the feeling of certain-death-by-cliff-face-fall (me, Phillippa and Phil) and acquired the self-satisfied feeling of someone who as just climbed up something.

After Cathedral Peak the others went home and Phil and I did more of the same, further south in the Bushman’s Nek area of the Drakensbergs.

The trip to Bushman’s Nek was an experience in itself. We stopped on the way there at Underberg, where we spent the evening talking cricket and doing tequila shots with the locals. We then took a four-wheel drive trip up to Sani Pass. It was a typical ‘tourists’ day out’ with our guide talking us through the local sites as if we were barely out of kindergarten: “There are some goats.” “Over there you will see a man with two donkeys”. “This road we are on has many bends”.

I shouldn’t complain, as I have been proven to be an idiot in several conversations so far. They tend to go something like this:

Local: “You speak English in Australia? You speak English?”
Me: “Yes.”
Local: “What other language?”
Me: “Just English.”
Local: “Not Zulu, not Sesotho, not Xhosa, not French?”
Me: “Nope. Just English.”
Local: “But you speak Afrikaans.”
Me: “No. No Afrikaans. Just English.”
Local: “Oh. [Sad faced]. That is very bad.”
Me: [Also sad-faced] “Yes. It is very bad”.

Anyway, after being treated like an idiot by the guide and proven so by a local, we visited a village, had lunch at ‘the Highest Pub in Africa’ and returned to Underberg. From Underberg we hitched to Bushmans Nek. It took four rides and about as many hours but we managed to get there. Our first lift was from an elderly lady in a Merc and our last was in the back of a tray truck sitting on (thankfully sealed) bags of manure.


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